Siblings and Individual Identity in High School

Written By: Mary M. Alward
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When the first day of high school looms in the near future, teens are both excited and anxious. They worry about such things as finding the correct classrooms, being on time for classes, strict teachers, how they will perform academically and new subjects that may be difficult for them. They also stress-out about peer pressure in socializing with members of the opposite sex. These can cause high anxiety levels and cause more than a little frustration.

When teens are about to start high school, most parents do their best to provide them with clothes and school supplies that will generate excitement and place them equally among their peers. However, parents of siblings that are very close in age rarely about a problem that lurks in the shadows and that will rear its ugly head within the school environment. That problem is sibling individual identity.

If your children are very close in age, the younger sibling may have problems creating his own identity within the school environment. This applies to both brothers and sisters. I'm using the term "he" in an overall context. Though children born close together aren't twins, they often have the same sensitivity to identity. Some will bask in their sibling's achievements and cheer him on, while others will be extremely jealous. Often, peers and teachers make the mistake of not looking at the individual of the younger sibling and instead assume he is exactly like the older sibling with the same interests and goals. If the older sibling has been labeled for any reason, that label often envelops the younger sibling as well. Knowledge of an older sibling being labeled before the younger sibling enters high school may cause him to hide his relationship with the older sibling. Since they are both in the same developmental range, the younger sibling must overcome identity challenges. This, added to the complexity of high school, raging hormones and finding their niche in the secondary pecking order, can cause anxiety, frustration and depression. On top of all the other challenges that high school brings with it, sibling rivalry is often intensified. Even if siblings are closely bonded and wish to spend time together at school, they may be teased and bullied by their peers.

To make matters worse, the younger child may be assigned to the same teachers that his sibling had the previous year. Though teachers should treat each child on his own individual merit, they often judge the younger child's academic performance and his behavior on that of the older sibling. This is not only unfair but it can lead to the younger child being labeled, either as an over-achiever, an under-achiever or as a troublemaker.

Solutions

When children are born within a 15-month span, it's often a good idea to enroll them in different high schools. This allows each of them to maintain their individual identity. This allows the siblings to have a closer, more positive relationship. It will also alleviate some of the sibling rivalry and competition at home, which will make everyone's life easier.

If it's impossible to enroll the siblings in different schools when they enter high school, parents should meet with the principal, guidance counselors and teachers. If there are issues, be certain that the school staff is informed. As time goes on, keep teachers updated and well informed on any issues that come up. This allows the staff to understand each sibling on his/her own merit and be better equipped to meet each child's needs.

Teachers try their best not to label a child because of the actions of an older sibling. Because there are a diverse group of children in the classroom each year, the chemistry will change. If siblings participate in the same extracurricular activities a year apart, they may not have the same coach or advisor. If this is the case, it is easier for the younger sibling to create his own individual identity.

Home

Encourage siblings who are born close together to take up individual activities and hobbies. If one child takes horseback riding lessons, encourage the other to participate in karate or gymnastics. If one plays soccer, encourage the other to participate in baseball or football. This allows each child to create his own niche and to use his individual talents and skills.

As a parent, you need to spend one-on-one time with each child and pursue separate activities when doing so. Each of your children is part of your physical and mental makeup. Be a positive influence. Each child has his own interests and learns in his own way. Respect their individualism in all things, including academic interests. Never compare one sibling to the other. Be positive and look at the challenges from each child's individual point of view.

Empower your children with both physical and mental exercise. Physical exercise allows and escape route for anxiety and stress. It promotes a feeling of well-being because the endorphin level in the body rises while exercising. In return, feeling good about himself will help your child concentrate and focus. All of these things promote an improvement in learning skills and a better academic score.

Allow each of your children to choose his own type of exercise. One child may enjoy walking, jogging or hiking, while the other may prefer aerobics, karate or football. Allow each child to take small steps toward his goal. In turn, he will reap vast rewards in high school and in the future.

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